S C Dixit:  ‘We offer end-to-end construction solutions for automobile plants.’

by Ajit Dalvi 25 Aug 2019


Mumbai-based Shapoorji Pallonji Engineering & Construction, a pioneer in building structures, has been instrumental in setting up 25 greenfield manufacturing facilities, covering 3,000,000 square metres of built-up area for 16 automakers at 15 different locations in India. Executive Director S C Dixit reveals what it takes to build state-of-the-art automobile plants.

What role has the Shapoorji Pallonji Group played in the setting up of automobile manufacturing plants in India?
The Indian automobile industry, which was ranked as the fourth largest in the world in 2017, has consistently been served by the Engineering and Construction division (SP E&C) of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group. The company has built 25 state-of-the-art automobile manufacturing facilities, across India, about 80 percent of which were executed between 2004-2018. These plants manufacture a range of automobiles, from cars, buses, trucks and even construction machinery and earthmoving equipment. SP E&C draws its strength from its experience in the industrial construction segment.

Which are the automobile manufacturers that Shapoorji Pallonji has been associated with? Which are the automobile manufacturing hubs where SP has a presence?
SP E&C has successfully established itself as the preferred construction partner for leading OEMs — both Indian and multinational. Our clientele includes Suzuki Motors, Ford Motors, Volkswagen, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Skoda, Tata Motors, Telcon, BMW, Tata Fiat, Volvo, Tata Marcopolo, JCB, Mahindra & Mahindra and auto ancillaries like Bridgestone. The list covers the who’s who of the Indian automobile industry.

SP E&C has built many greenfield facilities as well as brownfield expansions for automobile manufacturing majors at Pune, Ranjangaon, Talegaon, Chakan, Sanand, Chennai, Aurangabad, Nashik, Dharwad, Pantnagar, Lucknow, Bangalore, Ballabhgarh and Kandivali.

What are the challenges in automobile plant construction? How has the Shapoorji Pallonji Group been able to cater to its clients across locations?
An automobile plant construction in particular and industrial construction in general requires parallel working on multiple work fronts through deployment of dedicated resources to meet the overall timelines.

Generally, there is very little scope for repetition of resources from one unit to the other as the program does not permit sequential work. Sometimes, the resources need to be mobilised and deployed for very short durations before they are demobilised. Such resources include experienced supervisory and managerial personnel, plant and machinery, skilled workmen, formwork and specialist subcontractors. Many specialist sub-contractors are required to deliver the complete facility. The work programs of such specialist agencies need to be closely coordinated with the overall master construction program of the facility.

Suzuki Gujarat plant

Suzuki Motor Gujarat's plant at Hansalpur, Gujarat, built by Shapoorji Pallonji Engineering & Construction, went on stream in 2018

SP E&C’s service delivery network is spread across India and it has constructed many plants for its clients at multiple locations to meet their expansion needs. The empowered teams within our regional offices are authorised to take decisions to mobilise and maintain the resources as may be required for the projects delivery. In addition, the Head Office in Mumbai is receptive to the customer needs and supports the regional efforts from time to time. The systems and processes practised by us ensure that procurement and delivery are managed seamlessly within the organisation.

What kind of facilities within an automobile plant has SP built? And, typically, what scope of services do you offer to your clients?
We offer end-to-end construction solutions and cover a wide scope of work for automobile plants that include design and detailed engineering, site development, civil, structural steel and finishing works for buildings and manufacturing facilities, MEP works, utility infrastructure, hardstands and test tracks.

The facilities generally comprise of engine shop, body shop, paint shop, assembly shop, press shop, auto-ancillary park, warehouses, test tracks, utilities, site infrastructure, ancillary buildings and administrative offices.

While each client has a unique manufacturing process flow and process design, SP E&C works on the building facility to suit the manufacturer’s process design and equipment layout.

Ford India plant

Aerial view of Ford India’s vehicle assembly and engine plant at Sanand, Gujarat

From a construction standpoint, all automobile plants typically involve large volume outputs of built-up areas, concreting works, structural steel fabrication and erection works, roofing and cladding, industrial floorings and MEP works. The land area under development usually ranges anywhere from 500 acres to even 1,000 acres. Such outputs require the construction contractor to ensure large-scale resources mobilisation, mechanised methods of construction, and exemplary construction project management skills to meet the client expectations on construction safety, quality, timelines and, not to forget, statutory and environmental compliances.

How has construction technology evolved in automobile plants' construction?
In the earlier days, the construction industry depended heavily on manual labour for RCC construction and structural steel fabrication and erection. There was inadequate mechanisation of the construction process. This led to poor productivity and also risks of injury to the workmen. This made complying to schedule and safety requirements a challenge.

However, in recent times, pre-engineered buildings have been used in a number of automobile plant construction projects and are an established method of construction that enables off-site fabrication and manufacture of the building components such as columns, beams, rafters and purlins. The manufactured elements are then transported to the construction site and the components assembled together at site as per the building configuration. This approach allows fast-tracking of the construction schedule, thus allowing early or timely commissioning of the automobile plant. However, based on the design requirements, on-site fabrication and erection of structural steel is also necessary for some plants. SP E&C specialises in both. We customise the construction approach based on client and design requirements and adopt the most suitable methodology. Our construction methods for RCC construction are now highly mechanised.

General Motors India plant at Talegaon,

The paint shop at the General Motors India plant at Talegaon, near Pune, Maharashtra, was designed and built using precast columns, beams and slabs.

For utility infrastructure works, we use precast service ducts, drains and manholes and also precast wall panels for construction of boundary walls. In addition, we are using on-site standing seam profiling machines for roofing and cladding sheets. This ensures roof installations with continuous panels without joints.

For Mercedes-Benz’s Warehouse and Multi-Level Car Park at Chakan near Pune, Maharashtra (2016), we used structural steel and precast concrete elements to meet the user requirements of loading and span.

Building Information Modelling, an intelligent 3D model-based process, is being used extensively to visualise the design detailing and also for clash detection amongst various services. Co-ordinated shop drawings are generated well before construction begins. All these technology interventions enhance productivity and lead to smoother execution.

With regard to construction, how would you describe the sourcing practices and preferences of your automotive clients?
Different clients have different approaches to sourcing. They employ a variety of project delivery models and contract models for the construction of their automobile plants.

SP E&C is well versed with various project delivery systems, including DesignBuild, General Contracting and Conventional Contracting. We are flexible and actively engage with each one of our clients to arrive at the best procurement and project delivery strategy for their projects.

Suzuki Motor Gujarat Pvt Ltd’s automobile plant (B) at Hansalpur, Gujarat (2018) was delivered by us on a DesignBuild model. This approach helped us achieve a seamless project delivery for our clients.

Tata Marcopolo plant

The Tata Marcopolo Motors manufacturing facility for buses at Dharwad, Karnataka.

The other examples of automobile plants delivered by SP E&C on a DesignBuild basis include Skoda Auto India’s plant at Aurangabad, Maharashtra (2004-2009 in phases) and BMW’s CKD Plant in Chennai, Tamil Nadu (2007) wherein we used pre-engineered buildings to expedite the project delivery.

For General Motors’ plant at Talegaon near Pune, Maharashtra (2008), we designed and built the paint shop using precast columns, beams and slabs.

What quality management practices do you adopt and how do you ensure safety in your construction operations? What challenges do you generally face?
SP E&C’s top management is firmly committed to the cause of safety and provides support with finance and other resources. SP E&C employs trained engineers and supervisors and skilled workmen on its automobile plant constructions.

We follow the highest standards of health, safety, security and environment on our automobile plant construction projects. SP E&C has built a strong safety culture amongst its staff, sub-contractors and workmen. Our emphasis on adopting advanced construction technologies and mechanised methods of construction also results in lesser dependence on manpower, improved productivity of resources and higher safety of our construction operations. In addition, strict adherence to documented procedures, adequate planning for resources and frequent monitoring during construction help us achieve acceptable construction quality.

Our focus on safety, quality and statutory compliances on our construction projects has been very well recognised by the automobile industry and the company has won many awards for its performance. This also ensures that our clients focus on the critical plant commissioning activities and manufacturing readiness instead of construction.

SP E&C’s projects have received multiple awards for its HSSE performance from its clients, the National Safety Council of India and the Construction Industry Development Council.

What would you say are SP’s achievements in the automobile plants construction sector?
Till date, SP E&C has built 25 greenfield automobile plants at 15 different locations in India involving 3,000,000 square metres of built-up area for 16 clients.

In the early 1970s, we started out with the construction of the Tata Motors automobile plant at Pune and subsequently delivered many expansion projects at this facility. From there on, SP E&C was instrumental in setting up multiple greenfield manufacturing facilities for Tata Motors across India at Lucknow, Pantnagar, Dharwad and Sanand. The plant at Sanand was built and commissioned in a record time of 18 months with vital support from SP E&C.

Over a period of time, SP E&C’s domain expertise in construction of automobile plants became the main reason for it to be the first choice for many automobile majors such as:

- Ford India’s vehicle assembly and engine plant
at Sanand, Gujarat (2014),

- Volkswagen India’s plant at Chakan, Maharashtra (2009)

- Mercedes-Benz India’s QIII factory shop at Chakan, Maharashtra (2013)

- Volvo India’s truck assembly plant near Hoskote, Bangalore, Karnataka (1998)

- Tata Marcopolo Motors’ bus manufacturing plant at Dharwad, Karnataka (2008)

- Fiat India Automobiles’ plant at Ranjangaon, near Pune, Maharashtra (2008)

- Mahindra & Mahindra’s tractor engine plant at Kandivali, Maharashtra (1998)

-JCB's manufacturing facility at Talegaon, Pune, Maharashtra (2008)

Many of our clients such as Mercedes-Benz, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra and JCB have repeatedly sought our services for their expansion needs.

What role do you see for SP in the construction of new-age auto plants?
With a focus on growth and sustainability, Indian automobile manufacturers are planning to launch hybrid and electric vehicles and are exploring rural markets to push sales. India is also a prominent auto exporter and has strong export growth expectations for the near future. In addition, several initiatives by the government of India and the major OEMs are expected to make India a leader in the two-wheeler and four-wheeler markets in the world in the near future.

SP E&C continues to serve its clients and execute challenging automobile plant construction projects, the most recent one being Suzuki Motor Gujarat’s new automobile plant (A) at Hansalpur, Gujarat.

Going forward, we will continue to build on our domain experience by focusing on design, technology, project management and customer satisfaction. We, at SP E&C, are geared up to make many more contributions to the Indian automobile industry.

In addition, many of our existing clients in the automobile sector who are looking at setting up new facilities in emerging markets globally are potential customers for SP E&C. We are actively exploring global opportunities in automobile plant constructions. Our existing presence in these markets and geographies gives us a strategic advantage to serve such auto majors.

We work alongside India’s leading design consultants and have the crucial support of our specialist sub-contractors on our challenging automobile plant construction projects. Our biggest asset is our workforce that is qualified, trained and skilled to meet the exacting standards of automobile plant constructions.

(This interview was first published in the July 1, 2019, issue of Autocar Professional)